The life and times of Homer J.(Vol. I)
With the much-anticipated, already-loathed movie nearly here, three fans debate The Simpsons with Comic Book Guy zeal
Chris Selley, Marco Ursi & Jaime J. Weinman | Jul 23, 2007 | 16:15:47
About to begin its 19th season on Fox, few television programs - animated or otherwise - can claim the celebration and cynicism that has surrounded the Simpsons almost from the very start. And now, to the delight and/or chagrin of Simpsons fans everywhere, the much-anticipated Simpsons Movie is set to be released this Friday.
In a four-part discussion this week, Maclean's writers Jaime J. Weinman, Marco Ursi and Chris Selley will debate the highs and lows of the last two decades and nervously anticipate the Simpson family's move to the big screen. Volume II is here. Volume III is here. Volume IV is here.
From: Jaime J. Weinman
Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2007 4:47 PM
To: Chris Selley; Marco Ursi
Hi, Marco and Chris. I’m happy to be getting together with you - which is to say, writing e-mails to you - so we can talk about the same show every other publication is talking about: The Simpsons.
Let me start off with the question that comes up in every discussion about The Simpsons: is it past its prime? And by the way, I’m not just talking about every recent discussion; look at the archives of alt.tv.simpsons and you’ll find posts from 1993 complaining the show isn’t as good as it was in 1990.
So is The Simpsons past its prime, creatively? Of course it is - just like most shows that last 150 episodes or so. When The Simpsons began, it was famous as the first prime-time animated series that had any real emotional resonance to it. This wasn’t the adventures of a caveman who acted like Ralph Kramden or a henpecked husband in the future. This show could be crazy, but it was about people with real-world problems.
James L. Brooks, who was the driving creative force behind the show in the early years insisted it should follow in the tradition of his hit sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi: no matter how crazy the stories got, there always had to be some kind of point. It couldn’t just be mindlessly cynical. When you watch a great Simpsons episode like Season 2’s “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment”(Homer steals cable)or Season 7’s “Bart Sells His Soul”(what’s that one about again?), you get lots of great jokes and an emotional story about how characters relate to each other and a theme that’s sustained throughout the episode. A lot of shows that have imitated The Simpsons think it’s enough to have the cynical jokes, like(ugh)Family Guy.
The current writers understand the show is better off with some emotion in it. The current showrunner, Al Jean, was with the show in the first season. And his work has certainly been a big improvement over his predecessor, Mike Scully, who presided over what most fans consider the low point of the show: seasons 10-12, which brought us episodes in which the Simpsons pretend to have leprosy and battle evil jockey trolls. But the problem is, as Jean’s partner Mike Reiss said on one of the DVD commentaries, “once you take a quantum leap into craziness, you can never go back.” Simpsons episodes today can be very funny in spots, but they don’t really hang together as coherent stories. Each one pretty much has to be bigger, louder and more joke-filled than the last.
But we can all agree on one thing: as far as movie spinoffs from animated TV shows go, The Simpsons Movie will probably make more money than Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear. Not sure whether it can surpass The Man Called Flintstone, though.